Recently, I was approached by my friend and luminary, Rabbi Ruth, of Be’chol Lashon and Jewish&, as she was putting together a multi-cultural blog post about charoset. I considered submitting my family’s classic apple charoset recipe, as I make heaps of it to rave reviews every year. As I was wracking my brain for just the right recipe I realized that while many of my family’s Passover traditions stem from my father’s Ashkenazi roots, so much of my Jewish identity stems from my mother’s Cuban heritage.
My mango and pineapple charoset balls, ready to be chilled in the refrigerator.
This year, for my new charoset recipe, I found inspiration from the Sephardic tradition of forming the charoset paste into bite-sized balls, and used the flavors that I remember so well from my visits to the family in Cuba. Now, I know how my family reacts to change, so I won’t be pulling a bait and switch with their beloved spiced-apple charoset. For my family members who are reading this post, fear not. I promise that this recipe will certainly not replace our favorite charoset on the seder table, but perhaps I’ll serve it alongside the classic dish as a second option. Isn’t that how new traditions start? Also, since it is naturally quite sweet, it could even double as an acceptable dessert. That’s what we like to call a double-whammy!
For more charoset inspiration, check out the 7 different recipes Rabbi Ruth collected from around the world, by clicking here.
This Cuban-style Charoset is inspired by the island flavors that influence so much of my cooking. While most Charoset is served as a paste, I drew on the Sephardic tradition of making Charoset into small balls for this unique take on a classic dish.
5oz dried unsweetened mango, coarsely chopped
8oz dried unsweetened pineapple, coarsely chopped
½ cup almond slivers, toasted
2 cups shredded coconut, toasted and separated
In a small bowl, soak the mango in hot water for ½ hour.
Drain well, and add to a food processor. Add pineapple, almonds, and 1 cup of the coconut to the mango in the food processor, and pulse only until the mixture starts to form a ball. There should still be some visible chunks.
Form the mixture into bite-sized balls, and set atop a pan lined with wax paper.
In a small bowl, add the last cup of shredded coconut. Roll the balls in the coconut until they are lightly coated, and return them to the wax paper.
I’ve always found it fitting that the term in Spanish for first cousin, prima hermana, literally translates to cousin sister. While separated only by distance, my maternal cousins have always felt more like sisters than anything else, and were treated as such, for better or for worse. My younger cousin, Christine, the baby in the bunch, bore the brunt of most of the family pranks and teases. Although, she made it easy, when she claimed she came from the planet “Petwee,” and kept up the facade for a good many years. As someone known for marching to the beat of her own drum, she’s had an independent spirit for as long as I can remember, and has since grown into a real trailblazer. I like to think that our casting her as the “booger girl” in our home-made music video back in the day helped to thicken her skin a little, and prepare her for her world travels. If nothing else, it makes for good campfire stories.
Me with my cousins at Maureen’s wedding. Photo by Haring Photography
My older cousin, Leanne, who influenced my taste in music (ahem, Gloria Estefan) and shared my appreciation for a certain boy-bander (ahem, Jordan Knight), was the older sister I always wanted. I’m pretty sure her natural curls are responsible for a few of my ridiculously failed perms back in the day. As the leader of the pack, and built-in babysitter, Leanne was often tasked with judging the kids’ family dance competitions, while the adults indulged in a little Sabado Gigante in the other room. Us youngsters trusted her judgement and wisdom, and we knew that her word was law. Those arbitrating skills have not gone to waste, as she grew up to be a well-respected attorney.
Maureen, my cousin and maid of honor, at my wedding. Photos by ES Photography
And then there’s Maureen, the cousin with whom I am closest in age. When we weren’t recreating the choreography from Dirty Dancingand the Rhythm Nation video, or perfecting our makeover skills with over-the-top hair and makeup that looked more like we were preparing for war, we were slip-sliding our way across wet floors, despite my Aunt’s clear warning that “el piso esta mojado!!” (Read: The floor is really wet!). Maureen was the first to identify my old lady tendencies, and to call me out on being a 65-year-old trapped in a 12-year-old’s body. We’d stay up late, philosophizing the wonders of the world and giggling until our bellies ached, but at the end of the day, she just got me. While we don’t get to see each other as much these days, whenever we get together, it’s as if no time has passed, and we pick up right where we left off.
Combining the wet and dry ingredients.
On a recent visit to Maureen’s neck of the woods, she and I had a deep conversation about the therapeutic qualities of working with our hands. As a trained Physical Therapist, Maureen knows a thing or two about working with her hands, but it wasn’t this type of work that we were discussing. There’s something about using ones own skills, strength, and talents to produce a product for the sole enjoyment of someone else. And the fact that whatever you made was handmade, means that your gift is completely one-of-a-kind, and made with love. For me, you can really see this philosophy when I entertain, and go above and beyond my normal weekday fare to make my guests feel acknowledged and appreciated. For Maureen, it’s her new venture into the world of custom Letterpress. With each order, Maureen creatively creates a specific design, and using an old letterpress, she painstakingly cranks out each piece by hand.
The oats mixture, ready for the oven.
With the recent launch of MadeByMaureen.com, I thought it would be fitting to present a recipe initially shared with me by Maureen, herself. I can certainly see why someone would choose the convenience of buying a box of cereal at the market over making some yourself, but after tasting one bowlful of this homemade variety, you might just change your mind. Rich in protein and high in fiber, this is the only cereal that has ever kept me satisfied for an extended period of time. While the list of ingredients calls solely for whole foods, it may seem like the “healthy” cereals you remember that taste like dust and air, but don’t let that fool you. With just the right amount of honey-kissed sweetness and the chewy bite from the dried fruit, I don’t miss the sugar cereals one bit. My mother-in-law likes to grab a dry handful for a snack on the go, but I prefer the more traditional route served in a bowl with cold milk. Even my 18-month-old nephew, Eli, gave this recipe his stamp of approval with an audible “Mmmmm” after a little taste. Clearly, he is developing a discerning palate with that critique!
Combining the finishing touches.
Since Maureen and I have a tendency to gift much of our batches away, we appreciate the fact that this simple recipe produces quite a bit of cereal. We also love the fact that the core recipe is easily adaptable to the seasons. Looking for a Fall flavor? How about maple and cinnamon paired with pepitas and pecans? Want something more geared towards Winter? How about adding a bit of cocoa powder, to remind you of a cup of warm hot chocolate? There’s really no wrong way to mix and match nuts, fruit and spices, and I urge you to experiment to find the combination you like best.
To get you started, I present to you the combination that gets me going in the mornings:
High in protein and fiber, this cereal keeps you satisfied all morning long.
⅓ cup organic extra virgin coconut oil
½ cup honey
2 tbs vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
6 cups thick cut oats (or old fashioned rolled oats)
2 cups chopped nuts (I use sliced almonds, chopped pecans and walnuts)
2 cups puffed kamut or puffed brown rice
2 cups bran flakes
1 cup dried fruit (I use Trader Joe's Dried Berry Medley, which has cherries, blueberries, and strawberries)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
In a small saucepan over low flame, heat the coconut oil, honey, vanilla extract, salt, and cinnamon, stirring constantly until salt and honey have dissolved. Set aside.
In a very large bowl, combine the oats and nuts. Drizzle the oil/honey mixture over the oats and nuts, and stir until completely coated.
Spread the mixture evenly over 2 large baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silpats, and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the sheets from the oven. Use a spatula to mix the oats, and re-spread them out evenly. Return the sheets to the oven, and alternate the sheet from the top and bottom racks. Bake for another 10 minutes.
Repeat the previous step every 10 minutes, until oats have reached desired level of browning (about 20-30 minutes).
Remove sheets from the oven, and cool.
Once cooled, combine the oats mixture with the kamut (or puffed brown rice), bran flakes, and dried fruit.
Store in an airtight container.
Some variations Maureen has done include: Kahlua and Amaretto Vanilla ginger (Adding ginger powder in place of the cinnamon to the oats) Maple almond pecan (adding maple syrup to the mix, and slightly less honey) Cinnamon/Nutmeg (nice in the Fall/Winter)